High-calorie foods, big blowouts or binges aren’t the problem for most people. A few added calories here or there - glass of wine, handful of sweets etc. that make the difference.
We are (mistakenly) led to believe that the biggest problem in our diets is ‘junk’ food; hyper-palatable, high-calorie foods. That it is eating a pizza once per week, or going out for dinner, or that bowl of ice cream on a Friday night that is preventing many of us from losing weight.
Now, for some, this may be the case. Some people do eat far too much junk food. Some people do binge eat and, as a result, eradicate their weekly calorie deficit in one blowout. But for a lot of people, this is simply not the case.
However, by believing it is low quality junk foods that are preventing or slowing weight loss, we are creating another potential barrier for ourselves. But let me make this clear: even if you eat ‘clean’, or eat mostly ‘good’ food, you still can gain weight, you still can overeat and you can still stop yourself from progressing.
For a lot of people, it’s not the occasional ‘junk’ food or weekly pizza that is preventing them from losing weight, its the little things here and there which make the difference. It’s the extra glass of wine per night with dinner, having a whole avocado instead of half of one with your lunch, the ‘heaped’ tablespoon of peanut butter which is 30g instead of 15g. We find it very easy to tell ourselves that it’s just a small thing and doesn’t matter, or that it’s ‘still good food’ so we aren’t eating badly… but if your aim is to lose weight, it doesn’t matter whether you consider the food to be ‘good’ or not - it only matters how many calories you are consuming 1) on a daily basis, and 2) on average over the course of the week.
It is so easy to be eating in a 100 calorie surplus instead of a 100 calorie deficit - to overeat instead of dieting - and not even realise it. So how do we turn a 100 calorie surplus into a 100 calorie deficit? How do we turn slow weight gain / maintenance into slow weight loss and progression?
1) Be Honest With Yourself!
Generally speaking, we suck at tracking our calorie intake. Whether we are tracking precisely with an app, measuring portion sizes, or just sticking to a list of dietary protocols, human beings are notoriously inaccurate. We forget things that we eat, or add to what we eat, we ‘guesstimate’ instead of measuring correctly, or underestimate the number of calories in a certain food or drink. So, keep reminding yourself: “I’m probably under-estimating how much I’m eating.”
If you aren’t losing weight, this is almost certainly the case.
2) Measure Portion Sizes
If weight loss is your goal, then as we have said many times before, quantity comes before quality. The amount of what you eat is going to have a far bigger bearing on progress than what exactly you are eating. Don’t guess, don’t allow yourself an extra bit ‘here or there’ - stick to precise portion sizes and you can easily save yourself a significant amount of calories on a daily and weekly basis.
‘An extra 5g’ might not seem like a lot, but do that even 4 times per day, 6 days per week and you’ve consumed 120g more food than you planned. 120g of chicken breast is 198 calories; 120g of avocado is 192 calories; 120g of peanut butter is 706 calories - so those extra 5g can add up very quickly if we aren’t careful.
3) Think About How You Cook
How much oil do you use when cooking? Do you add a lot of milk and sugar to your tea and coffee? How much butter do you put on your bread / toast? How much do you ‘try’ the food you are cooking, or pick at ingredients as you cook? Do you finish the food on your child’s plate at the end of the meal? Do you always have sauces or gravy to accompany your dinner? How much salad dressing do you drown your salad in?
All of these things above can add up to a lot of calories over the course of the day. I’m not saying to never do any of these things, but I am saying you shouldn’t always be doing all of them, either. Half the amount of oil you use (or just measure it out properly), half the amount of milk and sugar you add to hot drinks, forgo the butter on your bread Monday through Friday, serve your evening meal plain, without any sauces. Do all of these things, and without changing a single other thing about your diet, you can easily save yourself at least 100 calories per day, if not more!
Eating more plain food and meals may not sound exciting to you (and it’s not), but it is necessary. If you ‘have’ to always eat extravagantly cooked, indulgent, delicious meals, then you are standing in your own way. To lose weight, sacrifice is needed. That means going to bed hungry sometimes, that means not having dessert a lot of the time, and that means stick to plainer foods and meals as well. If you aren’t willing to make sacrifices like that to your diet, then you need to ask yourself - what are you willing to do to see the results that you want?
Sustained weight loss is extremely challenging, and almost certainly requires changes and improvements to your diet and nutrition. However, for many people this doesn’t mean the complete overhaul we think. If you are eating a lot of freshly-prepared food - fresh fruit and veg, lean protein sources, whole grains and healthy fats - then you don’t need to cut out all other foods from your diet to get results. What you do need to do, is add discipline to your regular diet - follow some of the advice listed above, and you’ll already be on the right track.